When negotiation skills are key in conservation

About the Author

Paul Thomson worked with African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi for a year before moving to Washington D.C. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul… More

Nothing starts your day like an angry mob at 7am.

A group of fifty or so men is gathering outside the yard of the house we're staying at. Things get heated – men begin shouting and waving their arms in frustration. They’re yelling in Lingala, so I look to Jef for help. He shrugs. “They want money.”

And money is what we’re trying to bring to people here in this part of DR Congo. We’re in Lingunda, a village on an elevated bank of the Lomako River.

Our expedition arrived here two days ago on the way to the AWF bonobo research and conservation center being built in the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve.

To manage the newly formed reserve, AWF works closely with the Congolese wildlife authority, ICCN, and helped establish an ICCN office here in Lingunda about 18 months ago. One of our key objectives with ICCN is to incorporate local communities into conservation management.

Jef tells me, “For the contract between AWF and ICCN on the management of the [Lomako-Yokokala] reserve, we agreed that the local communities take part not only in the execution of the management plan but also in its development from the beginning. This is a major difference.”

At the same time, we work with partners in this landscape to create projects that provide income and alternatives to unsustainable use of the forest where bonobos live.

If we can help bring tourism to this area, “money will come in,” Jef says. “And that never happens. That was nonexistent here. And it’s an example of how it should be.”

Jef, Innocent, Valentin, the ICCN Conservator, and others talk to the group of men that has surrounded us. The energy is escalating, but Jef remains calm and direct.

Jef and team dealing another sticky situation in the DR Congo - about 50 angry men.

After 20 minutes of intense discussion, the tension breaks. Some agreement has been reached. Hands are shaken, smiles exchanged.

“This is the way it is here,” Jef tells me later as we travel upriver. “There was some confusion about payment of salaries for the guys who walk transects in the forest. We worked it out. A bit scary, no?”

Uh, yes.

It is amazing what the Congo team has achieved in the face of such challenges.